AFTER spending nearly two years behind bars, Malaysia’s famous former federal opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will head back to the Federal Court today in his final attempt at securing his freedom through the country’s legal system.
Anwar was on Feb 10 last year sentenced to five years’ jail for sodomy, a punishment that saw him unceremoniously booted from the office of opposition leader and parliamentarian for the Permatang Pauh constituency.
The conviction not only stripped these posts from Anwar, who is one of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s few powerful political threats, but also disqualified him from contesting in the next general election, which must be held by mid-2018.
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According to reports, Anwar’s defence team wants the country’s highest court to set aside the conviction and free their 69-year-old client, who was once Malaysia’s deputy prime minister.
They are expected to raise in their arguments the alleged bias of the apex court’s judges who upheld the guilty judgement on Anwar last year, despite previous challenges against the credibility of the DNA evidence presented in the case.
According to local news portal Free Malaysia Today, among others, Anwar’s team will likely point to how the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had so quickly issued a statement after the apex court’s decision was delivered, as though they had already known beforehand the likely outcome of the case.
Another possible ground to be raised, the report said, is prosecution lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah’s conduct after the decision. Muhammad Shafee, who is known for his affiliation to the United Malays National Organization (Umno), the political party headed by Najib, went on a roadshow after Anwar was sent to prison, spending time explaining the court’s decision to Malaysians.
Despite these arguments, however, Anwar’s lawyers are aware of the tough battle ahead of them.
Last month, they were quoted in The Australian as saying that if they were to fail the legal review, they would settle for house arrest for their ailing client.
“Of course we want to get him released, period, and are going for an acquittal. If that doesn’t work, we will try for house detention, which is allowed under Malaysian law,” US lawyer Kimberley Motley was quoted saying.
The lawyer’s claim, however, appears to contradict what Malaysia’s Home Ministry said in May. In a statement reported by Malaysiakini, the ministry said that sodomy offences do not qualify for parole. Later, Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said no prisoner in Malaysia has even been put under house arrest without first making parole.
With this in mind, Malaysians are expected to gather this morning from 8am at the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital, where the Federal Court is situated.
Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) is holding a “Solidarity towards Freedom” rally in conjunction with the appeal, hoping to draw large crowds to the courthouse and ramp up pressure on the Najib administration to set the leader free. Even though he won’t have legal right to stand for elections, Anwar’s freedom may very well give the party and its allies in the opposition the momentum they need ahead of the polls.
But political fatigue and several upheavals on Malaysia’s ever-growing opposition front after Anwar was forced out of active politics is expected to affect rally numbers.
According to popular local political blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin last week, “PKR might not get a crowd — well at least not 50,000 or 100,000 — next Wednesday if the people are not inspired or motivated to come out to rally and demand Anwar’s release from jail.”
Anwar was charged with sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008. The Kuala Lumpur High Court first acquitted the leader four years later in 2012 but the decision was overturned in March 2014 by the Court of Appeal, which also sentenced the politician to five years’ jail.
The decision was later challenged by Anwar’s team and subsequently upheld by the Federal Court last year. He is currently serving his sentence at the Sungai Buloh prison.